Last Sunday was the Listen to Your Mother show in Washington DC. And holy mother was it something!
To be honest I wasn’t nervous until about 7pm the night before. For weeks prior my castmates were posting their freak-out moments all over our private Facebook group and I was pretty much silent. Stand up and read what I wrote? What’s to be nervous about, I thought to myself. I appreciated that they were nervous, but I definitely wasn’t.
Then sitting at my son’s soccer game the evening before, it finally hit me.
I SIGNED MYSELF UP TO DO WHAT?!?
Not only signed up for, but auditioned and had to beat out plenty of other people.
WHO THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA?!?
Oh, it was me?
WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING?!?
I arrived at the theater on Sunday morning with plenty of time to spare, thanks to my driver, who also happens to be the producer of the show, Kate (one of the perks of living down the street from her - my own driver!).
By this point it was impossible to deny that I was out-of-my-mind nervous. But clearly there was no turning back now, and honestly, I wanted to put my story out there.
I am deeply in love with this story.
The only people who had heard it before Sunday’s performance were my castmates and the four other women in my writing group.
No. One. Else.
And it was time, finally, to put this story out into the world.
The backstage prep was fun, sisterly, and anxiety-inducing.
There were essay printouts to review and approve.
There was makeup to have done, thanks to the fabulous Ashley Fuchs.
There was time to pass with friends, all new except this guy, who is an old friend. How cool that we both made the same cast?
There was the stage entrance and exit to practice, coming on and off to the beat of Uptown Funk, which is what ultimately calmed me down. We are known to bust a move or two in kickboxing class and goofing around to the groove of the song made me feel just like I was with my kickboxing peeps, so I was filled courage. Huzzah!
And finally it was just about time to go on.
Yep, this happened (she's not the only one!).
And there was a great last-minute pep talk from Stephanie, our director.
And the next thing we knew we were up on stage and the show was underway.
Ashley Allen very bravely led us off (not like she had a choice in the matter!) with her sweet, funny, and poignant essay ending with what will now forever be her tagline, “Bring it, bitch!”. She was brilliant.
And the others followed suit, in our established order, and everyone was equally fabulous.
Then this gorgeous lady went up to read her essay and let me tell you, she THREW. IT. DOWN.
We had all heard the story before but somehow the time between the cast read-through and the coaching run-through with the producer (who happens to be a former actress - and it showed in our readings) kicked everything up a notch (or seventy).
So while watching Shunnell killing it up there on stage I thought to myself GAME ON, GIRL.
My turn came, exactly half way through the readers, and I stepped up to the microphone, took a deep breath while I looked into the darkness of the theater, and started in.
“The nurse checked me one last time, finished some paperwork, and briefed the young woman on the incoming shift.”
The words were a comfort as I heard my voice fill the theater. These words were familiar; I’d read these exact words silently and aloud at least a hundred times in the last six months.
These words were my story.
These words were me, right then, right there.
My essay unfolded line by line, page by page, and I felt myself becoming engrossed in my own tale. I heard the words echoing through the theater, but I don’t exactly remember saying them. I didn’t remember the ending to my own story.
After I finished reading, the audience applauded and I sat back down as the next person was introduced. I whispered to Sonya, who was sitting next to me, “Did I just screw up? I don’t remember finishing my essay.”
She said “Oh you were fine! You finished it.”
I wasn’t really sure of that, but sitting on stage facing 300 people with a new reader about to start, I wasn’t about to debate her on it.
I was freaking out in my head. What the hell had I done?
The show finished to a standing ovation and we all floated on air (while boogying to Uptown Funk again - girls hit your hallelujah, WHOO!) off the stage. There was relieved screaming and tears and hugs in the dressing room. And maybe more drinking.
A few minutes later I told Stephanie that I didn’t remember finishing my essay on stage, that I had no recollection of it.
“That’s because you didn’t,” she said.
“You mean you didn’t plan it that way?” she asked.
Now why the hell would I write an essay one way, practice it relentlessly, only to change it on the fly? Maybe someone might do that but there’s no way in hell am I that someone.
I had left off the last page of my essay. The ending. The final note I wanted to leave the audience with.
“But it was a good ending where you stopped,” Stephanie said. “It totally worked out.”
And she was right, where I stopped reading was in fact an ending point, it just wasn’t the ending I intended. The essay really had a different meaning the way I’d unconsciously read it aloud on Sunday.
It’s taken me a few days of inner turmoil to come to terms with my mistake, and now finally, five days past, I can see it as something that wasn’t actually a mistake.
It’s the story that needed to be told that day, that time, by that person standing on that stage.
It’s not exactly the story I intended, but what I’m learning is that sometimes we have to give ourselves over to the power of our own stories. Sometimes our best decision is to get out of the way and let the story be told the way it needs to be told.
And then be grateful for that exact story.
And the essay? That story? The one I wrote and the different one I told?
You’ll have to wait until July, when the videos go live on the Listen To Your Mother YouTube channel, to see and hear it for yourself, and you can let me know then what you think about the ending. And I’ll share with you the ending that I wrote, the one that never got spoken that day.
And I will most definitely share the videos of all my castmates, who very bravely shared their stories as well.
I myself can not wait to see them all again!
The 2015 DC Listen To Your Mother cast includes:
Ashley Allen: Big Top Family Brent Almond: Designer Daddy Ashley Fuchs: The Malleable Mom Joan Cicero Hamilton, who read I Am Mother, Hear Me Roar Shunnell Lewis, who read Mom’s Journey On A Gurney Lindsey Maines: Rock and Roll Mama Caron Martinez: Wise Latina 101 Patricia Mirchandani: Raising Humans Jennifer Oradat: Mom Babble Sonya Spillman: Spilling Over